FDA Clarifies That Ban On Cigar Donations To Troops Was Deliberate

Jonah Bennett | Contributor

The Food and Drug Administration has finally confirmed that companies are banned from donating cigars to U.S. troops, according to an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.

In early September, GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine Corps reservist who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote a letter to the FDA asking for clarification on a confusingly worded regulation that could be interpreted as a ban on companies donating cigars to troops.

Now, Ramesh Menon, acting supervisory congressional affairs specialist for the FDA, has cleared up the confusion in a response to Hunter’s letter: yes, companies are most definitely banned from donating cigars.

Hunter plans to get this removed with a new amendment to next year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Whether this new amendment convinces other members of Congress remains to be seen, as Congress granted authority to the agency through the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in 2009.

At the time, President Barack Obama said the law was oriented at protecting children from the negative health effects of tobacco, but that adults would be allowed to make their own decisions.

Yet in August, the FDA decided to interpret the legislation as permitting a ban on companies donating cigars to adult soldiers.

“Tobacco manufacturers and distributors have long taken part in a time-honored tradition of donating tobacco products to service members, often while deployed,” Hunter said in his September letter. “These donations routinely improve morale and serve to relieve stress.”

“It would be unacceptable for the FDA to prohibit the distribution of tobacco products to service members who are fighting to protect those very rights that may now be restricted,” Hunter added.

In early October, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece noting that it’s bizarre for FDA Commissioner Robert Califf and colleagues to back troops dodging bullets overseas, while at the same time restricting access to tobacco these same soldiers often rely on to relax.

Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor introduced legislation in September to again allow charities to send cigars to troops.

“I strongly disagree with the FDA’s ban on premium cigars as charitable gifts to our troops and as donations to nonprofit organizations that in turn use these donations to support our troops,” Castor said.

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